Dr. Nicholas Correa
ELT Resource person, Ratnasagar Publication
Punctuation is the system of
symbols (. , ! - : etc) that we
use to separate sentences and
parts of sentences, and to make
their meaning clear. Each
symbol is called a "punctuation
Punctuation marks are essential when
you are writing. They show the reader
where sentences start and finish and if
they are used properly they make your
writing easy to understand. This
section gives practical guidance on
how to use commas, semicolons, and
other types of punctuation correctly, so
that your writing will always be clear
1. Use a full stop at the end of a sentence:
•The man arrived. He sat down.
2. Use full stops with abbreviations (in an
abbreviation the last letter of the word and of
the abbreviation are not the same):
•etc. (et cetera)
•M.P. (Member of Parliament)
3. Do not use full stops with contractions (in a
contraction the last letter of the word and of the
contraction are the same):
The rule about abbreviations and contractions is
not followed by everyone. Sometimes it is a
question of style. The important thing is to be
xxx, xxx correct
xxx ,xxx incorrect
xxx , xxx
A comma in writing is like a pause inside a sentence when
speaking. We use commas inside sentences. Commas
separate parts of a sentence into logical elements. Commas
have no meaning, but they help us to see the structure and
therefore the meaning of the sentence.
Put a space after a comma. Do not put a space before a
1. Use a comma between items in a series or list. In a
sentence, the last two items usually do not need a
comma between them as they are separated by "and".
However, if one or both of the last two items are
long, a comma may be useful.
•coffee, tea, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, salt
•My favourite sports
are football, rugby, swimming, boxing and golf.
•Hunsa was wearing blue jeans, black shoes, his
brand new white shirt, and a brown and green
2. Use a comma between three or
more adjectives or adverbs.
•I like the old, brown, wooden table.
•He bought an old, red, open-top Volkswagen.
•He ran quickly, quietly and effortlessly.
3. For two adjectives, use a comma where you could
•It was a short, simple film. (It was a short and
•I have a big black dog. (I have a big and black dog.)
4. Use a comma for numbers over 999. (In English,
commas separate thousands and periods separate
decimals. Note that some languages use the
•1,000 (one thousand)
•10.5 (ten point five or ten and a half) - note the
use of the period, not comma
5. Use a comma for addresses, some dates,
and titles following a name.
•911 Avenue Mansion, Petchburi Road, Bangkok,
•Los Angeles, California
•November 4, 1948 (but 4 November 1948)
•Fred Ling, Professor of English
6. Use a comma before or after direct speech. Do not
use a comma for reported speech.
•He said, "I love you."
•"I love you," he said.
•He told her that he loved her.
7. Use a comma before a coordinating
conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to join two
independent clauses. If the independent clauses are
short and well-balanced, a comma is optional.
•He didn't want to go, but he went anyway.
•I want to work as an interpreter, so I am studying
Russian at university.
•She is kind so she helps people.
8. Use commas for parenthetical elements. A
"parenthetical element" is any part of a sentence that
can be removed without changing the real meaning of
•John Geton, who is chairman of the company, is
•Andrew, my wife's brother, cannot come.
•Andrew (my wife's brother) cannot come.
•The objective, to find peace in both countries, is
hard to reach.
9. Use a comma after an introductory
element. A comma is optional for short,
simple introductory elements.
•Rushing to catch the flight, he forgot to
take his phone.
•As the year came to an end, he realised
the days were getting shorter.
•By evening we were getting worried.
•After a hefty meal cooked by his host's
wife, he went to sleep.
•After a snack he went to sleep.
10. Sentence adverbs (words
like however, unfortunately, surprisingly that
modify a whole sentence) often require one
or two commas, depending on their position
in the sentence.
•However, Anthony did arrive.
•Anthony, however, did arrive.
•We were, unfortunately, too late.
•He had, not surprisingly, lost his temper.
11. An adverbial clause often needs
a comma when it comes at the
beginning of a sentence (but not at
the end of a sentence).
•If I win the lottery, I will buy a
•I will buy a castle if I win the
12. Do not use a comma to separate
two complete sentences. In this
case, use a full stop (period) or
•Ram wants to go out. Anthony
wants to stay home.
Ram wants to go out, Anthony wants
to stay home.
Tara, Ram and Anthony enjoyed their holiday,
which they spent in Rio Claro, Trinidad, from
December 17, 2010 to January 6, 2011.
Unfortunately, although the weather was good,
if rather hot, it rained a lot during their last
week. Ravi, Tara's uncle, said, "When I was
young we had very little rain, but now we have
a lot of rain." Ravi, a wealthy, good-looking
man, lives in the north of the island.
I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the
rest of the day taking it out.
1. We sometimes use a semi-colon instead of a full stop
or period. This is to separate sentences that are
grammatically independent but that have closely
•Josef likes coffee; Mary likes tea.
•Tara is a good speaker; she speaks very clearly.
•You did your best; now let's hope you pass the exam.
•Ram wants to go out; Anthony wants to stay home.
Note that in the above examples it is not correct to use a
comma instead of the semi-colon.
2. Use a semi-colon as a kind of "super comma". When
we have a list of items, we usually separate the items
with commas. If the list is complicated, we may prefer to
use semi-colons in some cases.
•ABC Investments has offices in five locations:
Kensington, London; Brighton & Hove; and Oxford,
Cambridge and Manchester.
•Rental cars must be returned on time; with a full tank of
petrol; in undamaged condition; and at the same location
as they were collected from.
A hyphen is a very short horizontal line between words.
Note that there is no space between a hyphen and the
character on either side of it.
Do not confuse a hyphen (-) with a dash (-), which is
The rules about hyphens are not fixed. The points below
are guidelines rather than rules.
1. Use a hyphen to join words to show that their meaning
is linked in some way:
•book-case (or bookcase)
•race-horse (or racehorse)
2. Use a hyphen to make compound
modifiers before nouns:
•a blue-eyed boy (but The boy was blue eyed.)
•the well-known actor (but The actor is well known.)
•their four-year-old son (but Their son is four years old.)
3. Use a hyphen with certain prefixes.
The prefixes all-, ex-, and self- usually
need a hyphen:
When a prefix comes before a
capitalized word, use a hyphen:
When a prefix is capitalized, use a
4. Use a hyphen when writing numbers
21 to 99, and fractions:
•one hundred and sixty-five
4. Use a hyphen when writing
numbers 21 to 99, and
•one hundred and sixty-five
5. Use a hyphen to show that
a word has been broken at the
end of a line (hyphenation):
The directors requested that a
more convenient time be
6. Use a hyphen with "suspended
compounds". When we use several
very similar compounds together, it
may not be necessary to repeat the
last part of the compound:
•They need to employ more full- and
part-time staff. (not They need to
employ more full-time and part-time
•This rule applies only to 12-, 13- and
14-year olds. (not This rule applies
only to 12-year olds, 13-year olds and
A dash is a horizontal line that shows a pause or break in
meaning, or that represents missing words or letters.
Note that dashes are rather informal and should be used
carefully in writing. Dashes are often used informally
instead of commas, colons and brackets. A dash may or
may not have a space on either side of it.
Do not confuse a dash (—) with a hyphen (-), which is
1. Use a dash to show a pause or break in meaning in the
middle of a sentence:
•My brothers—Richard and John—are visiting
Hanoi. (Could use commas.)
•In the 15th century—when of course nobody had
electricity—water was often pumped by hand.(Could use
2. Use a dash to show an afterthought:
•The 1st World War was supposed to be the world's last
war—the war to end war.
•I attached the photo to my email—at least I hope I did!
o Use a dash like a colon to introduce a list:
•There are three places I'll never forget—Paris,
Bangkok and Hanoi.
•Don't forget to buy some food—eggs, bread,
tuna and cheese.
4. Use a dash to show that letters or words are
•They are really f––––d up. (Typically used for
•I will look ––––– the children. (Typically used in
"missing word" questions.)
In fact, there are two kinds of dash:
•the en-dash (–), which is the width of
the letter "n"
•and the em-dash (—), which is the
width of the letter "m"
However, the difference between them
is rather technical and mainly of value
to typographers. The dash is a
convenient and easy mark to use in
hand-writing. But it is often difficult to
find on a keyboard and for this reason
some people use the easier-to-find but
shorter hyphen (-) when word-
1. Use an apostrophe in possessive forms:
•the ball of the boy > the boy's ball
•my friend's mother
•New York's nightmare scenario
•the moon's phases
2. Use an apostrophe in contracted forms (the
apostrophe shows that letters have been left out):
•cannot > can't
•they have > they've
•I would (or I had) > I'd
•it is (or it has) > it's
•who is > who's
Certain words are sometimes written with an
apostrophe (to show that they are really a shortened
form of the original, longer word):
•influenza > 'flu (or flu)
•telephone > 'phone (or phone)
Some people use an apostrophe when the first two
figures of a year are left out:
•1948 > '48
It's value is Its value is
It's going to rain
Who's are these? Whose are these?
These are your's These are yours
exception >One's self-esteem
3. You can use an apostrophe to show the plural of
letters and numbers:
•You should dot your i's and cross your t's.
•Do you like music from the 1950's?
You can use an apostrophe to show a plural form for
words that are not normally plural:
•Your plan is good, even if there are lots of but's in it.
Possessive pronouns or determiners (except one's) do
not use apostrophes. Do not confuse them with
contractions. The following are typical mistakes:
The main function of a question mark is to indicate a
question or query.
1. Use a question mark at the end of all direct
•What is your name?
•How much money did you transfer?
•Did you send euro or dollars?
2. Use a question mark after a tag question:
•You're French, aren't you?
•Snow isn't green, is it?
•He should go and see a doctor, shouldn't he?
3. Don't forget to use a question mark at the end of a
sentence that really is a direct question:
•How else would I get there, after all?
•What if I said to you, "I don't love you any more"?
•"Who knows when I'll die?", he asked rhetorically.
4. In very informal writing (personal letter
or email), people sometimes use a question
mark to turn a statement into a question:
•See you at 9pm?
In the same situation, they may use two or
three question marks together to show that
they are not sure about something:
•I think you said it would cost $10???
5. Do not use a question mark after an
indirect or reported question:
•The teacher asked them what their names
were. (What are your names?)
•John asked Mary if she loved him. (Do you
•I'm wondering if she's coming. (Is she
6. Many polite requests or instructions are made in the
form of a question. But because they are not really
questions, they do not take a question mark:
•Could you please send me your catalogue.
•Would all first-class and business-class passengers now
7. Be careful with titles and abbreviations when question
marks are involved:
•"Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was a play before it
was a film.
•Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a play before it was
•Have you seen the film "Who's afraid of Virginia
•Have you seen the film Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf??
•Have you ever been to L.A.?
Note that there should be no space immediately before a
Called Exclamation Point in
An exclamation mark usually shows strong feeling, such as
surprise, anger or joy. Using an exclamation mark when writing is rather
like shouting or raising your voice when speaking. Exclamation marks are
most commonly used in writing quoted speech. You should avoid using
exclamation marks in formal writing, unless absolutely necessary.
1. Use an exclamation mark to indicate strong feelings or a raised voice
•She shouted at him, "Go away! I hate you!"
•He exclaimed: "What a fantastic house you have!"
•"Good heavens!" he said, "Is that true?"
2. Many interjections need an exclamation mark:
•"Hi! What's new?"
•"Oh! When are you going?"
•"Ouch! That hurt."
3. A non-question sentence beginning with "what" or
"how" is often an exclamation and requires an
•What idiots we are! (We are such idiots.)
•How pretty she looked in that dress! (She looked very
pretty in that dress.)
4. In very informal writing (personal letter or email),
people sometimes use two or more exclamation marks
•I met John yesterday. He is so handsome!!!
•Remember, don't be late!!
•I'll never understand this language!!!!
Remember, try to avoid exclamation marks in formal
writing such as an essay or business letter.
The slash (/) is also known as: forward slash, stroke,
oblique. You should use the slash with care in formal writing.
1. A slash is often used to indicate "or":
•Dear Sir/Madam (Sir or Madam)
•Please press your browser's Refresh/Reload button. (Refresh
•The speech will be given by President/Senator
Clinton. (President Clinton or Senator Clinton)
•Mary will eat cake and/or fruit. (Mary will eat cake, or Mary
will eat fruit, or Mary will eat cake and fruit.)
Do not over-use the slash to indicate "or". It can suggest
laziness on the part of the writer. The "and/or" construction
is widely considered to be very bad form.
2. Use a slash for fractions:
•1/2 (one half)
•2/3 (two thirds)
•9/10 (nine tenths)
3. Use a slash to indicate "per" in
measurements of speed, prices etc:
•The speed limit is 100 km/h. (kilometres
•He can type at 75 w/m. (words per minute)
•The eggs cost $3/dozen. ($3 per dozen)
•They charge €1.50/litre for petrol. (€1.50
4. People often use a slash in certain
•This is my a/c number. (account)
•John Brown, c/o Jane Green (care of)
•n/a (not applicable, not available)
5. A slash is often used in dates to separate
day, month and year:
•On credit card: Expires end 10/15 (October
•He was born on 30/11/2007. (30th
November 2007 - BrE)
•It was invented on 11/30/2007. (November
30th, 2007 - AmE)
6. The slash is used to separate parts of a
website address (url) on the Internet, and to
separate folders on some computer systems:
The backslash is not really an English punctuation
mark. It is a typographical mark used mainly in
computing. It is called a "backslash" because it is the
reverse of the slash (/) or forward slash.
The backslash is used in several computer systems,
and in many programming languages such as C and
Perl. It is commonly seen in Windows computers:
Do not confuse the backslash () with the slash (/) or
Although it is not really an English punctuation mark,
the backslash is included on these pages for
We use quotation marks to show (or mark) the beginning and
end of a word or phrase that is somehow special or comes from
outside the text that we are writing. Quotation marks can be
double ("...") or single ('...') - that is really a matter of style (but
see below for more about this).
Quotation marks are also called "quotes" or "inverted commas".
1. Use quotation marks around the title or name of a book, film,
•The second most popular book of all time, "Quotations from the
Works of Mao Tse-tung", has sold over 800,000,000 copies and
was formerly known as "The Red Book".
•'Titanic' is a 1997 movie directed by James Cameron about the
sinking of the ship 'Titanic'.
Note that in the above case, we may use "italics" instead of
quotation marks. So the above examples would then appear
•The second most popular book of all time, Quotations from the
Works of Mao Tse-tung, has sold over 800,000,000 copies and
was formerly known as The Red Book.
•Titanic is a 1997 movie directed by James Cameron about the
sinking of the ship Titanic.
Obviously, the use of italics is not possible in handwriting or
with old-style typewriters.
2. We use quotation marks around a piece of text that we are
quoting or citing, usually from another source:
•In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language,
David Crystal argues that punctuation "plays a critical role in
the modern writing system".
3. Use quotation marks around dialogue or direct
•It was a moonlit night. James opened the door and
stepped onto the balcony, followed by Mary. They
stood in silence for a few moments, looking at the
moon. Then Mary turned to him and said: "Do you
love me, James?"
4. Use quotation marks around a word or phrase that
we see as slang or jargon:
•The police were called to a "disturbance" - which in
reality was a pretty big fight.
5. Use quotation marks around a word or phrase that
we want to make "special" in some way:
•Note that sometimes we use "italics" instead of
Double or single
Quotation marks can be double ("-") or single ('-'). If we
want to use quotation marks inside quotation marks, then
we use single inside double, or double inside single.
•He said to her: "I thought 'Titanic' was a good film."
•He said to her: 'I thought "Titanic" was a good film.'
Punctuation inside or outside final quotation mark?
If the quoted words end with a full stop, then the full stop
goes inside the quotation marks. If the quoted words do not
end with a full stop, then the full stop goes outside the
•He said: "I love you."
•She has read "War and Peace".
Note that in US English, the full
stop usually goes inside the
quotation marks in all cases:
•He said: "I love you."
•She has read "War and Peace."
However, US English adopts the
British style for question marks and
•He said: "Do you love me?"
•Have you read "War and Peace"?
•Can you imagine? He has never
read "War and Peace"!
How do we indicate quotation marks
People may say "quote, unquote" or "open
quotes, close quotes" when reading aloud
texts containing quotation marks:
•On page two it says, quote, Now is the
time to invest, unquote.
•On page two it says, open quotes, Now is
the time to invest, close quotes.
"Quote, unquote" may also be said
informally in front of rather than around
the quoted words:
•The brochure describes the car as, quote,
unquote, total luxury.
"Quote, unquote" is sometimes used to mock or show
disapproval or disbelief:
•Then he arrived with his quote, unquote new girlfriend.
People sometimes say "in quotes" (often putting up their
two hands with two fingers extended on each hand, like
quotation marks), indicating that the words came from
another source, or in a mocking way, or suggesting that
they don't quite believe what they have just said:
•Then he arrived with his new girlfriend, in quotes.
Please note: There are some differences in the use
of quotation marks between various varieties of
English such as British English or American English.
Anyone seeking guidance at an advanced level is
recommended to consult a style guide (often
included in good dictionaries) for their particular
An underline is a horizontal line
immediately below a piece of writing.
In handwriting, we traditionally use
underlining to indicate emphasis:
Underline can be a noun and a verb. You can
ask someone "to underline" something.
("Please underline all the errors.") In the
above example, we can say that butter is
"underlined". We can also use the term
"underlining" in a more general sense. ("On
most web pages, underlining is reserved for
In typewriting, we can use underlining to
show emphasis, and also things like titles of
books and films, and names of ships.
However, in print and computer writing, we
use underlining much less, partly because we
have bold and italics to do a similar job.
In addition, with the development of the Internet and world
wide web, web pages traditionally use underlining to indicate
a link. As such, it is not good practice to use underline on
Underline is also called underscore, especially in American
Underscore is a line below text-level,
and is typically used in email
addresses, filenames and urls, for
In American English, underscore can
also mean underline.
Brackets/Round Brackets or
Round brackets are basically used to add
extra information to a sentence. Look at
() = brackets or round brackets
() = parentheses
•explain or clarify
1.Tony Blair (the former British prime
minister) resigned from office in 2007.
•indicate "plural or singular"
1.Please leave your mobile telephone(s)
at the door.
•add a personal comment
1.Many people love parties (I don't).
1.The matter will be decided by the IOC
(International Olympic Committee).
Some grammarians believe that (whenever
possible) we should use commas.
Some grammarians believe that, whenever
possible, we should use commas.
Remember that the full stop, exclamation
mark or question mark goes after the final
bracket (unless the brackets contain a
complete sentence). Look at these examples:
•My car is in the drive (with the window
•I just had an accident with our new car.
(Sssh! My husband doesn't know yet.)
•The weather is wonderful. (If only it were
always like this!)
•The party was fantastic (as always)!
•Do you remember Johnny (my brother's
•Johnny came too. (Do you remember
Johnny?) We had a great time.
Square Brackets or
We typically use square brackets
when we want to modify another
person's words. Here, we want to
make it clear that the modification
has been made by us, not by the
original writer. For example:
 = square brackets
 = brackets
1.to add clarification:
•The witness said: "He [the policeman] hit me."
2.to add information:
•The two teams in the finals of the first FIFA
Football World Cup were both from South America
[Uruguay and Argentina].
3.to add missing words:
•It is [a] good question.
4.to add editorial or authorial comment:
•They will not be present [my emphasis].
5.to modify a direct quotation:
•He "love[s] driving." (The original words were "I
We also sometimes use square brackets for nesting,
•Square brackets can also be nested (using square
brackets [like these] inside round brackets).
The ellipsis mark consists of three dots (periods). We use the ellipsis
mark in place of missing words. If we intentionally omit one or more
words from an original text, we replace them with an ellipsis mark.
The ellipsis mark is also called a "suspension point" or "dot dot
•Suppose we want to quote "The film focussed on three English
learners from Asia who were studying at university." Perhaps we want
to omit "from Asia who were" to save space. So we write:
"The film focussed on three English learners...studying at university."
The new sentence still makes sense, but the ellipsis mark shows the
reader that something is missing.
We sometimes also use an ellipsis mark to indicate a pause when
someone is speaking, or an unfinished sentence. Look at these
•She turned to James and said, "Darling, there is something...I need to
tell you. I have never felt like...like this before."
•"It's not easy to explain. It's not..." Her voice trailed away as emotion
welled up within her.
Do we use a space with an ellipsis
mark? That is a question of style.
Many style manuals recommend no
space, like this:
•three English learners...studying at
Others recommend using a space
before and after an ellipsis mark, like
•three English learners ... studying
•It's not ...
The important thing is that you
choose one style and use it
consistently. Do not mix your styles.
Punctuation is a collection of marks and signs which break words up into groups
and give other useful information to help us understand what we are reading
and hearing. When we are reading out loud, the punctuation helps us know
when to pause.
The most common punctuation marks are:
1. full stop . Shows the end of a sentence
2. comma , Shows a short pause in a sentence
3. exclamation mark ! Shows surprise, humour or excitement
4. question mark ? Used to denote a question
5. colon : Used before a list or before giving evidence to
prove a point
6. semi-colon ; Shows a longer pause
7. speech mark “ ” Show direct speech/a quotation/to show
8. apostrophe ’ Shows a missing letter or possession
9. hyphen and dash - Can be used to show a pause, or to link two
10. parentheses/brackets ( ) Used around an aside, or less important
Capital letters are also used to help us organise meaning and to structure our
Help kids with punctuation